Speaking to a group of Capitol Hill interns on Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan took aim at the nation's increasingly toxic political discourse, saying that "ugliness is sometimes inevitable, but it should not be the norm."
“It is so easy to get disheartened,"
Ryan told the college-age audience, referencing the state of politics today.
A sample of the rancor Ryan spoke against erupted Tuesday, when the presidential campaigns of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and Manhattan real estate developer Donald Tump exchanged online salvos over a Facebook ad paid for by the anti-Trump Super PAC Make America Awesome.
The ad, which targeted Utah primary voters, featured Trump's wife, Melania, a former model, posing nude on a fur rug with the caption, “Meet Melania Trump, your next first lady. Or you could support Ted Cruz on Tuesday.”
She had posed nude for the British version of GQ Magazine in 2000, before she and Trump were married.
Trump took to Twitter, blasting the ad and saying, in part,"careful, Lyin' Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!"
The Cruz campaign responded, saying it was not responsible for the ad, adding "if you try to attack Heidi, you're more of a coward than I thought. #classless."
While Ryan never mentioned the incident, or either candidate, in his speech, their rhetoric was clearly in his sights. "A politics that is degrading, that goes to the base of our emotions - we don’t need to prey on people’s separations and anxieties."
He said he found inspiration in his old boss and mentor, former Congressman Jack Kemp.
In Kemp, Ryan said, he found someone who was willing to embrace ideas and principles, and reach outside what Ryan called "the echo chamber" to test whether those ideas had merit.
"We don’t lock ourselves in an echo chamber," Ryan said. "We don’t shut people down," when they disagree with us, and "we don’t insult people into agreeing with us."
Ryan admitted he had not always met his own standard, saying that on more than one occasion, particularly when he was running as the GOP's vice presidential nominee in 2012, that he was wrong to "castigate a large number of Americans to make a point."
He changed his approach, especially on the causes of poverty in the nation "not because I wanted to be politically correct," he said but because “I was wrong.”
Ryan said the current political climate shows him that "we are slipping into being a divisive country."
"We question and impugn motives," he said, "instead of testing ideas."
He added that everyone, inside and outside government, has responsibility to change that.
"We need to raise our respect for one another. Our jobs as leaders is to present a clear and compelling agenda, and not to trade insults."